Chrysler has been on death's doorstep more than just about any other automotive company. Every time, however, it's found a way to dig out of the mess and move on to better days.
While the Dodge Caravan single-handedly rescued the company in the 1980s, the latest Houdini-esque escape can be attributed to more than just a single car. This time around, the corners that were being cut have been rectified. From materials to powertrains, the new Dodge is a very different company than just a couple of years ago.
The latest Dodge Charger is a prime example of how the so-so sedan has been transformed into a contender for the best in the segment. Regardless of what you want -- the base car or the range-topping SRT8 -- there's a Charger to suit just about any taste. our tester, the mid-level SXT with all-wheel-drive, proved to have more than a few pleasant surprises.
I liked the original Charger, despite a few of its obvious warts. It was the epitome of a good muscle car and defined what the genre was all about -- power to spare in a sports car with attitude. The latest edition manages to take the basics and builds on them to the point where there's very little connection between past and present.
Consider the interior. While the previous car's cabin was passable, some of the materials looked as though they were once pop bottles before being recycled. Today, the blend of soft-touch materials, attractive accents and dynamite instrumentation delivers a cabin that is, at last, equal to the rest of the car.
Materials and comfortable front sport bucket-seats aside, it proved to be the UConnect system that caught my eye -- it's the easiest system to master. Accessing everything from the phone and media functions to a setup menu is the model of simplicity, thanks to the 8.4-inch touchscreen and voice command. It's something other manufacturers need to look at and, if they're smart, mimic.
Moving rearward, there's decent head and legroom. However, the large central tunnel means the centre seat is an only-when-absolutely-necessary proposition. It's also wise to duck on the way in through the rear door -- the arching roofline will take a chunk out of a careless head.
Aft of that, the trunk makes light work of 16.5 cubic feet of cargo. The inclusion of 60/40 split/folding rear seats adds versatility.
The Charger SXT tested was powered by Chrysler's Pentastar engine. This 3.6-litre V6 spins out an effortless 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque thanks to its variable valve timing. The beauty is that even when forced to run at the top end of the rev range, it doesn't get thrashy or noisy, which is something one could not say of the previous engine. It also brings the mustard necessary to get the Charger SXT AWD from rest to 100 kilometres an hour in seven seconds.
For those who want a little more mustard, there's the 370-hp R/T and the awe-inspiring SRT8, which puts 470 stampeding stallions under its hood. The R/T cuts about a second off the acceleration time; the SRT8 chops a further second.
The SXT's power is fired to the rear or all four wheels through an eight-speed manumatic transmission. The latter works nicely with the engine, but I didn't care for the electronic shifter -- it seemed to have a mind of its own much of the time.
If you're considering a Charger, the only way to go is all-wheel-drive. The system functions flawlessly and makes the Charger far less tail-happy than its rear-drive siblings. To increase fuel economy, the system automatically disconnects the drive to the front wheels when appropriate. However, it's smart enough to re-engage the front wheels if the wipers are turned on and/or the temperature drops below 3C, which ensures maximum traction in slippery conditions. It's one of the best systems in the segment.
The Charger's handling was surprising. Something this large should not dance like it's wearing ballet slippers. The double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions dial out all unwanted body roll, the electro-hydraulic power steering delivers the right feel and feedback, and the oversized P235/55R19 tires deliver the right sort of grip. In the end, it means the Charger is fast and poised when it's pointed into a corner.
This is a far cry from its muscle-bound ancestors -- throw a kink into the road and those early beasts, which first appeared in 1966, were distinctly unhappy. This time around, the SXT and its competent all-wheel-drive system proved to be at home even when pushed to the limit through my favourite sweepers.
There wasn't a lot wrong with the previous Charger, cheesy plastics aside. But the latest version improves things in every area. It has far more refinement, a classy interior style that features class-leading materials and a powertrain that's as sweet as a nut.
For my money, the Charger remains the best choice in its segment.
-- Postmedia News
Type of vehicle: All-wheel-drive mid-sized sedan
Engine: 3.6L DOHC V6
Power: 292 hp @ 6,350 rpm, 260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-spd manumatic
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Base price/as tested: $28,995/$38,940
Destination charge: $1,595
Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 11.4 city, 7.3 hwy.